Seriously? A Joyful Cross?

april foolsIt’s April Fool’s Day. We celebrated Easter just a few days ago. There’s a passage of scripture that always strikes me as odd. It’s Hebrew 12:2-3. Are you kidding—the cross seems to hold nothing that resembles joy. Is this a prank or something more insightful? I’ve included the paraphrase from The Message and the more familiar translation from the New International Version.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (MSG)

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (NIV)

…for the joy that was set before Him, Jesus endured the cross.

Certainly, there was nothing joyful about dying on a cross. Jesus, although He is fully God, was also a man. He experienced emotions and felt pain—His body bled and died. Crucifixion was not so much an execution as it was slow torture that ended in death. It was a shameful way to die. Crucified criminals were public spectacles; they hung naked on a cross, with a plaque declaring the crime tacked above the dying criminal’s head. Death came slowly as the one crucified died of dehydration and suffocation. Jesus was not simply crucified. He was beaten first—battered beyond recognition. For Jesus, there was no joy in the act of being crucified.

So what does that verse mean?

Scriptures makes it clear, Jesus was willing to suffer through the crucifixion out of obedience to the Father. That is very pragmatic. Jesus did acquiesce to the will of the Father. Strict obedience doesn’t bring joy.  Obedience is something one does out of a sense of duty or obligation. None of those words conjures the notion of joy in anyone’s mind.

Jesus was willing to suffer to gain a place of honor. At the end of His suffering, Jesus earned the seat at His Father’s right hand. Although that is glorious in and of itself, look past the obvious and see what goes along with that position.

When Jesus bled and died on the cross, He became the redeemer of sinful humanity. If you have accepted that gift of grace, YOU are the joy that made going to the cross worth it to Jesus. As Jesus sits at His Father’s right hand, He shows the Father those who He has redeemed. What a joyful time that must be for Jesus and His Father, “Look, Abba, I have one more! She is worth the suffering I endured! He is worth the suffering I endured!”

Does that thought breathe new life into your continued celebration of Easter?

YOU are worth dying for!

Christ paid the price of your salvation. What joy it is for Jesus to offer you a gracious gift—the one He paid for with His life.   Counting you as one of His, made the brutal, painful death worth it. Redeeming you made His obedience glorious.

Today, if you have accepted the gracious gift Jesus died to offer you, bask in His love for you. If you have not, accept Jesus as the only sacrifice a holy God will accept for your sin and make His joy complete.

Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son. Keep my eyes focused on Jesus. Let me learn from His example.

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Changed and Unchanged By Doubt

jesus_handsBut he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

John 20:25 (MSG)

The first time I was in the OR during nursing school I got sick. It was not from being in the OR. It was coincidental. I had some questionable food the night before. I was in the OR, ready to see the surgery and I started getting hot. I must have looked funny since the circulating nurse looked at me and asked me what was wrong. I told her I felt hot. That nurse whisked away from the operating suite before I could say another word.

Feeling better, a few days later I had another opportunity to re-visit the OR.   It was then I found my previous visit did not go unnoticed. My welcome the second day was, “Oh, you’re the one who got sick the other day.”   One moment of claustrophobic hotness and I had a reputation, “the sick one.”

I can identify with Thomas. You know him, Doubting Thomas. One moment of unbelief and this poor disciple ends up with the name that is synonymous with unbelief—Doubting Thomas.

It’s fascinating to see Thomas in another setting. Jesus, informed of His friend Lazarus’ death, decides to make the trip to Bethany. Thomas is the one who rallies the rest of the disciples and seems willing to face the inevitable along with Christ.

That’s when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions,

“Come along. We might as well die with him.” John 11:16 (MSG)

Do you see Thomas in a little different light? Realizing a trip back to Judea might mean trouble for Jesus, it’s Thomas who is willing to follow Christ to death. At that moment, that is.

After Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples, except John, deserted Jesus. I doubt they went far. Out of fear, they hid. It’s likely, from a distance, they watched Jesus on the cross. If Thomas didn’t see Jesus die, some of his comrades did. Jesus was dead. There was no doubt. Thomas, the pragmatist, didn’t understand this talk of seeing Jesus alive.   Here is John’s record of the fateful moment.

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then He focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” John 20:24-29 (MSG)

This is a tender moment between Jesus and Thomas. Jesus knew what Thomas said. Jesus made Thomas’ ultimatum the invitation. Instead of rebuke, Jesus invites Thomas to do the thing he said it would take to convince him Jesus was alive. The focus of Jesus’ attention was Thomas, not his doubting, not his weakness, not his fear.

Jesus was unchanged by Thomas’ doubt. Thomas was changed by Jesus’ grace.

Do you doubt? Everyone has in a moment of weakness, anger, uncertainty, selfishness or pride. In all of that, Jesus remains unchanged. The invitation remains unchanged. Jesus is bigger than your doubt. He’s man enough to take your unbelief and with love mold it into faith; the kind of faith that cries, “Master!”

Father, as I face many uncertain situations, remind me of Your unchanging love and grace. Help my unbelief. Open my eyes to the truth in Your Word. Open my heart to the depths of Your grace. Change me, Father, change my unbelieving heart.

 

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What If It’s True?

what ifFor if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead.  And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.  In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 (NLT)

If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because He was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries. 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 (MSG)

Have you ever fallen into the “What if…” trap? There are times when the thought passes through my mind, What if this Christianity thing really is a made up story—what if the atheists are right and there really is nothing beside us and death is the end of existence?   I’m sure the opposite is true. I’m sure the those who reject religion have the passing thought, What if I’m wrong and there is a God.

If you are a thinker, regardless of your particular position, you have wrestled with some doubt.

As a believer, I often find myself wondering, along with King David why God allows evil to run rampant.   As I come face-to-face with suffering, I sometimes wonder why God allows it. Injustice, evil, apathy, cruelty—those all too human experiences can cause a twinge of doubt to well up in my heart.

When I wrestle with doubt, I think back to those who actually walked and talked with Jesus in person. Certainly, if I spent time with Jesus before His crucifixion—on that first Easter Sunday morning I would have jumped out of bed with joy and been thrilled when I saw the empty tomb.

At least that is what I’d like to think.

I used to be hard on the disciples. How could they be so dense? I like the words of Jesus in John 14 when He asked, Have I been with you every day and you still don’t know who I am? I would roll my eyes along with Jesus and wonder how they could have missed it. With age comes clarity. I know how the disciples could miss it. I know how I’ve missed it—multiple times.

Those on the road to Emmaus, and those left behind in Jerusalem were spinning in a whirlwind of emotion and doubt—even after seeing the empty tomb.

Easter. It’s the turning point in history. The moment that stone rolled away from the entrance of Jesus’ grave everything changed.   Paul wrote about it in his first letter to the new church at Corinth. Easter is the foundation—the solid foundation on which our faith can rest.

Christ is risen! That changes everything. If you find doubt tapping you on the shoulder, go back to the foundation. Christ is risen! If the whisper of uncertainty begins to overwhelm your joy, return to the foundation. Christ is risen! If the haze and darkness of distrust cause you to question God’s love, return to the foundation. Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

Father, thank You for loving me in my doubt. Thank You for being bigger than my imagination. Thank You for being more loving than I can understand. Remind me to return to the foundation of Your love for me when doubt and fear distract me.

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Bursting Into Flame on Monday

matchThat same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who He was.

He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”

He said, “What has happened?”

They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got Him sentenced to death, and crucified Him. And we had our hopes up that He was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find His body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Then He said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into His glory?” Then He started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to Him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So He went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, He blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then He disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as He opened up the Scriptures for us?” Luke 24:13-34 (MSG)

Each year at the hospital, we review fire safety. One of the things we review is the fire triangle. For a fire to occur, three things must be present: oxygen, fuel and heat, an igniting agent. Taking away one of those things quenches the fire.

The disappointed, sad followers and the unexpected Jesus interact on the road. This is one of my favorite stories from the gospels. Despair, bewilderment, burning desire, and unbridled enthusiasm—it’s all in this story. There’s some name-calling and the side of Jesus I love to see revealed in scripture.

There’s a bit more—some nuance.

Jesus listened to His sad friends tell their tale of woe and then responded rather oddly. It’s bad form call someone mourning the death of a loved friend a name. I don’t know what your reaction to being called stupid is. For me, the conversation would be over, but the two on the road listened to the stories that Jesus unfolded. Jesus reviewed the Old Testament revelations of the Messiah—Jesus told His friends HIS story.

Being teachable—even in the middle of a tragedy—these two followers were sad and disappointed but still hungry. They were still teachable.

It was more than that—Jesus indicted their hearts.

Could it be these two followed Jesus believing without faith? That makes me pause and take inventory. Do I believe in God without believing God? Can I list off His attributes but live a life unchanged by the great God I know? Am I slow-hearted? Do I hold back my heart—my faith—while offering up my intellect?

Despite the sting—they listened as Jesus did what He so often did. Jesus quoted scripture. He put together the pieces woven throughout the history’s record that point to Him as the Messiah.

Jesus’ words changed the two. The name-caller-Jesus turned into the gentleman Jesus. He was not going to stay without an invitation. Undoubtedly, Jesus would have kept walking, or disappeared as quickly as He appeared, had the two not invited Him to join them.

Have you invited Jesus to stay—to stay when you’re miserable, inconsolable, disappointed, disillusioned, thick-headed or slow-hearted?

It’s easy to dismiss Jesus at the very time it’s essential to beg Him to stay.

Notice Jesus’ response. He stayed.   It was only after rebuke and reproof, a journey through the Word, and an insistent invitation the two caught on “fire.” This phrase is one of my favorite in the Bible—Did our hearts not burn within us? Taking away any element of this story would bring a different end. The sad walk to Emmaus would have continued.

That fire Jesus started wasn’t the end. These two acted returning to tell the other sad, disappointed followers in Jerusalem what those stories Jesus told them meant. JESUS IS ALIVE! Jesus is the MESSIAH!

  • Pair your belief in God with faith. Learn about Him. Learn to trust His love, mercy and grace.
  • Stay open to the sting that sometimes comes from the light of the Truth as it’s revealed in scripture. The Message paraphrases 2 Timothy 3:16 this way: There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another— showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to   live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (MSG)
  • In your darkest moments, sometimes moments too dark for others to stay by your side, ask Jesus to stay. He will. He really wants to.

Father, thank You for Your love—love that sent Jesus to this earth. Quicken my heart, open my eyes, make me teachable, help me seek Jesus when all I want to do is be alone in my misery. Catch my heart on fire.

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I Came, I Saw, I Conquered.

tomb emptyThat same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.  As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him…

…Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.  Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?”  Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if He were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, He took the bread and blessed it. Then He broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! Luke 24:13-16, 25-31 (NLT)

Terry dropped me off at work. My car needed maintenance and Terry was going to take it to the mechanic while I was at work. I called Terry at the end of my shift and waited at our predetermined spot. As I waited, a red car pulled up and stopped. I glanced away from phone but seeing a red car, I didn’t move. You see, I don’t have a red car. A few minutes passed. Terry finally honked the horn. I looked up and he waved at me. Terry was driving a red loaner car since my car required an overnight stay at the mechanic’s shop.

When I finally got in the car Terry asked me, “What were you waiting for?” I told him I was waiting for him to pull up in my car—the one I recognized—the one I expected.

Jesus—He’s interesting—He’s unexpected.

These two sad, disappointed followers had lost all hope in the Jesus they followed. How do I know? Jesus gave specific instructions to His followers. The angel at the tomb told the women to remind the disciples of what Jesus told them. Jesus planned to meet His disciples in Galilee. These two were on their way to Emmaus. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was gone.

I’m not judging these two. I’ve walked the road to Emmaus, more than once. In spite of all the time spent with Jesus, when I expect Him to do one thing and He does another—I often decide to take my own sad, disappointed path.

Jesus is reluctant to leave anyone on the road to his or her “Emmaus.” If you are sad or disappointed with Jesus, take note.  Jesus came and began walking with them.

If Jesus handed out business cards, I think His tag would be—I came. Jesus said it often.

Julius Caesar wrote a short report to the Roman Senate after a quick victory over a lesser foe—“I came, I saw, I conquered.” Jesus came to earth as a baby, to live in our skin. Jesus came. Jesus saw. He saw our pitiful state—lost and alone—with no hope of redemption. He came to be the perfect sacrifice to redeem His fallen creation. If that was all Jesus did, Easter would not really be a celebration—it would be a nice story about a caring man who died in our place.

The part of the story that makes Easter spectacular is JESUS CONQUERED! Jesus didn’t conquer something you and I can fix with hard work. He didn’t conquer a financial problem, a relationship problem, a problem more education could solve or a problem another law could fix. Jesus conquered death! Jesus rose from the dead. I’ve seen many dead bodies during my nursing career. I’ve worked side-by-side with doctors and other nurses to prevent the death of a patient. Once a patient is declared dead—it’s over. Death is a foe no one on earth can conquer—but Jesus did.

Jesus came to walk beside His sad, disappointed friends. Although Jesus came, He didn’t come as expected. They almost missed Him. If you’re on the road to Emmaus—if you can’t quite see Jesus—ask Him to open your eyes. Jesus came. Jesus saw. Jesus conquered. THAT’S SPECTACULAR! That’s worth celebrating! That’s what Easter is all about!

Father, open my eyes and let me see Jesus. Keep me mindful of Your love and grace. Remind me that I am Yours. I’m the object of Your love, mercy and grace. I surrender my disappointment to You—let me know Your peace. When I’m overwhelmed by an enemy I can’t conquer—remind me that You conquered death—and in doing that changed my future.

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What Are You Going To Do With Jesus?

tombNow there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock.  This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation, as the Sabbath was about to begin.

 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law. Luke 23: 50-55 (NLT)

Jesus was dead.

Jesus’ followers who witnessed the crucifixion loved Jesus. They watched Jesus die as He proclaimed, “It is finished!” The only thing they knew was the Man who did miracles, Who promised a coming kingdom, Who was their friend, died a gruesome death.

What were they going to do?

Those watching didn’t realize, IT IS FINISHED, was just the beginning of the story.

His closest friends

Jesus’ closest friends ran and hid. Fear gripped their hearts. I’m sure they spent the hours after Jesus’ death sad and afraid. The very crowd that called for Jesus’ death knew His friends. They were exposed. In fear and confusion, the eleven went into hiding.

Has being a friend of Jesus caused you hide? Following Jesus has a cost—one that is not monetary. Following Jesus will cost you your comfort. Jesus never promised ease, but peace and provision. The horrific spectacle drowned out the words of Jesus in the minds of His disciples. Jesus had laid out the plan for His disciples. He would die and be raised—those words had to seem meaningless when lined up against the beating, the cross and the giant rock in front of the tomb. Jesus was the one who raised the dead—what were the disciples going to do?

His closest friends cowered in their pain, fear and confusion.

His distant friends

Jesus had some distant followers. These men were not the ones you would expect to find on the scene. Joseph (not Jesus’ dad) was a member of the Jewish council that called for Jesus’ death. Scripture records Joseph disagreed with the council’s decision. John records that Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler that came to Jesus at night provided the anointing spices for Jesus’ body. The gospels don’t record any account of these two men openly following Jesus during His earthly ministry.

Since these two men were in the Synagogue, they heard the words of Jesus. At some point during Jesus’ ministry, their hearts were changed. At this moment when tension was high, these men stepped to the forefront, collected Jesus’ body, prepared it for burial and provided the tomb.

His female followers

In Jesus’ culture, women were, at best, second-class citizens. Women were essentially possessions. The Pharisees never addressed women. Jesus on the other hand, spoke to women, healed women, and showed compassion to women. Women touched Jesus—in that culture that was scandalous. Jesus was radical. The women He touched loved Him. In their love, they planned to care for His body, tenderly, the way Jesus cared for them.

Women were close throughout Jesus trial, and stayed at the foot of the cross. The women, mostly unnamed followed Jesus to His death.

What are you going to do with Jesus

Do you run from Christ when the cost seems too great? Are you a distant follower, weighing the cost of following Christ? Are you a quiet follower? Has Christ moved you to the point of following Him, even in the darkest moments?

The tomb was sealed. Jesus was dead. The disciples were left with the nagging questions. Jesus can’t be left unaddressed—you must do something.

Everyone has to answer the question, “What are you going to do with Jesus?”

Father, help me evaluate my commitment to Christ. Give me a determined heart to follow Christ—openly, with determination, love, and devotion. Give me a deeper understanding of the sacrifice Christ made for me.

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Starting At The End

hindsightThat same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.  As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus Himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing Him.

 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago. Luke 24:13-21 (NLT)

Luke 24:13-34

My anesthetized patient needed a second IV. My partner was on the other side of the operating table. We both looked at the options for IV sites this particular patient presented. I took a deep breath and with puffed out cheeks, let out a sigh as I shook my head. The nurse on the other side of the table knew my thoughts—our thoughts matched—this was not going to be easy. She looked at me and with a taunting tone in her voice said, “No guts. No Glory.”

I don’t remember if I got a working IV on the first try. I think of myself as better than average when it comes to starting an IV—I usually have success. On the occasion when I’m not successful I find myself thinking, maybe I only THINK I’m good at starting IVs. It’s funny how the mind chooses to remember some things and forget others.

Easter is a few days away. I hope I don’t ruin the story for you, but Jesus comes back to life three days after being crucified. I’m starting at the end, because I think it’s interesting; the people who knew Jesus best, who heard Him speak, and who walked beside Him, were sad. Disappointed might be a better description.

We had hoped He was the Messiah… wow.

I don’t know where you are along the road. Maybe you’re disappointed with Jesus. Perhaps God has let you down.

Did I just type that last sentence?

It’s a question worth asking. It’s the question at the foundation of every longing that seems to go unfulfilled. It’s the nagging feeling which stalks you as you pray, and pray, and pray and still don’t see the answer to your prayer.

Is God disappointing?

These two on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus expressed their disappointment to a stranger that just appeared along the way. More than casual onlookers, Luke considered these two followers of Jesus. They witnessed the events in Jerusalem. They knew of Jesus’ arrest. Perhaps they watched as Jesus was publicly beaten and then crucified. Three days after, they knew the tomb was empty. They heard, first-hand, the women’s crazy story. Their plan for Jesus was as dead as they thought Jesus was.  Were they next?  What was going to happen now?  Maybe the others were right and Jesus was just crazy.  Maybe they were too excited to see the “truth.”

What do you do when Jesus or God disappoints you?

Take a cue from the stranger who the two met as they walked along. The stranger was Jesus—alive just like He said He would be. They couldn’t see it was Jesus. They were looking for the glory while trying to by-pass the guts it takes to achieve it.

The followers had a misshapen view of the friend they followed. Jesus wasn’t simply “a prophet.” He was The Prophet—the one John the Baptist called, “The Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.”   They hoped without believing. They had a plan but it was different from Jesus’ plan and so they were sad, confused and disappointed.

The glory—it’s glorious. The guts—it’s hard.

Jesus’ reaction to their disappointment? He turned their attention to scripture, like He had so many times before. He reminded the followers the Messiah would suffer before the revelation of His glory. No doubt, Jesus reminded them of Moses and the Passover Lamb—sacrificed to save the Israelite people from death. I’m sure Jesus quoted the passages in Isaiah 53 so often heard at Easter.

It wasn’t until Jesus sat down to eat that they realized it was Him—alive.

Have I been disappointed with God? Yes. In fact, I’ve been downright angry with Him. If I’m honest I have to admit, I’m disappointed not with God, but with that fact He’s not following my plan. I’ll let you evaluate your situation.

Living through those three days that Jesus spent in the tomb took guts. Although Jesus is risen, you and I live through days of disappointment and confusion. Days of adversity, days when God is quiet, days when there seems to be no resolution, days when God seems disappointing—if I had a choice, I would most likely choose to live without those days.

It’s true, there is no glory without suffering but imagine how different the walk BACK to Jerusalem was.

Father, help me to remember when I feel like You don’t hear me—that you hear my every cry. Remind me that I am Your follower and it’s never the other way around. Remind me there is always glory awaiting those with the guts to suffer, to follow Your plan regardless of the events that occur around me. Teach me to learn the truth about You from Your Word.

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The Master Needs You

donkeyAfter saying these things, Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem. When He got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, He sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.’”

The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, “What are you doing untying the colt?”  They said, “His Master needs him.”

They brought the colt to Jesus. Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on. As He rode, the people gave Him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street. Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:

Blessed is He who comes, the King in God’s name!

All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places!

 Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!” But He said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”

When the city came into view, He wept over it. “If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you! But now it’s too late. In the days ahead your enemies are going to bring up their heavy artillery and surround you, pressing in from every side. They’ll smash you and your babies on the pavement. Not one stone will be left intact. All this because you didn’t recognize and welcome God’s personal visit.”   Luke 19:28-44 (MSG)

If you attended church today, this is most likely the passage used as the sermon text. My pastor used it today. I’ve been reading it for the past few days and my eyes keep returning to the phrase, “His Master needs him.”

There’s a lot of cultural context in this passage. Many of these things seem odd to us in this modern world. Frankly, as a child I thought it was weird that Jesus, God’s Son, would ride into town on a donkey. Really, Jesus and a donkey—it’s not even His donkey—the juxtaposition is so odd it merits a closer look.

Jesus spent his entire time of ministry telling people to be quiet about the miracles He performed. As Jesus touched the leper, and others, Jesus also told them to remain silent about who He was. When Jesus cast out the demons who then tried to proclaim who He was, Jesus made them be quiet. This day was different. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, people shouted, lined the streets and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus didn’t stop them. He rode into town on a donkey.

His Master needs him.

When you think of a donkey, what words come to mind? Ordinary, common, stubborn—I think of those words. Not words I would associate with something Jesus would use or “need.” Then, I stop to think about it—those words could describe me.

That’s when I find hope.

That’s what this week is all about. Hope. Hope that a holy God would look on me with grace. Hope that God could find a purpose for someone so unlike Himself. Hope for a Savior to make my common, ordinariness into His glorious likeness.  Hope that God’s love can bend my stubborn nature into something usable, even needful.

Jesus wept because the very ones He came for didn’t recognize Him. How often have I recognized Him and then discounted myself as someone He could “need.” How many times have I excused myself from His service? How many times have I been content to stay tied to a post rather than be “needed” by the Master? I know I’ve shooed Jesus away, figuratively telling Him to walk, simply because I didn’t feel worthy enough, good enough or accomplished enough to meet the “need” of the Master.

I’ll let you examine your own heart.

The Master needs the simple little donkey for His secular plan.  Find hope in that this Easter season.

Father, thank You for “needing” me. Thank You for Your love that went to the greatest extreme to bring me to You. Help me recognize You. Help me recognize Your plan for me. Create a willing heart that acts in gratitude for the love You’ve shown.

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Perspective in the Storm

lighteningOne day He and His disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” He said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and He fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

Getting to His feet, He told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.

Then He said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust Me?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what He tells them!” Luke 8:22-25 (MSG)

I don’t know how to swim. That’s fine with me, because I don’t care for the water. Yes, I’m sure those two facts are related. Nonetheless, I joke when my friends, splashing around in the pool, invite me in— “I have lungs, so I need to stay on the land.” Never feeling comfortable in the water, I don’t enjoy swimming. I don’t enjoy small boats that are tippy. The water is a place that leaves me feeling out of control.

I do enjoy watching big thunderstorms. When tall, dark clouds appear on the horizon, with lightning flashes and cracks of thunder, you can usually find me outside until the rain starts. It’s different being under the cloud than having it in the distance. Under the cloud, the storm touches you, which can be frightening. Big storms put life into perspective. The storms remind you how small you are and how little you actually control.

For me, being in a storm at sea would be more than I could tolerate.   A number of the disciples on the other hand, were fishermen. Certainly, they were at home on a boat, undoubtedly, having weathered many storms. This particular day Jesus and His disciples are heading off across the lake simply to get some peace and quiet.

Then, out of nowhere, comes a storm.

Either the disciples were very tired or this storm was extraordinary. Whatever the reason, this storm caused the disciples to think they were going to die. In spite of their best efforts to keep the boat afloat, they were not winning the battle.

What was Jesus doing? He was asleep.

Has a situation ever consumed you with panic? Did you find it helpful when a friend or spouse asked you, “What’s your problem?” Grrrr! For me, that’s when the shrieking begins. If the other person were able to grasp the situation fully, he or she would not have to ask such a silly question.

“Jesus, we’re going to die! Wake up!” They didn’t ask Him to get up and calm the storm. The disciples invited Jesus to join in their panic. Jesus got up, told the storm to stop and it did, immediately.

There they were, Jesus and the disciples standing on the deck. The waves—gone. The wind—still. For a few moments I’m sure the only sound was the splish-splash of the calm water against the boat.  The disciples’ chests still heaving and out of breath as they try to take in what just happened. Jesus, maybe yawning and stretching, asks them a simple, yet profound question—why can’t you trust Me?

It’s a good question. What was it Jesus was trying to get across to them—to us?

Do you find yourself in a breathless panic? Jesus doesn’t. Does your planned-out day, slip from your grasp and spiral out of control? Jesus’ doesn’t. Do you feel like you have a firm handle on your life only to find in the next minute your “ship” is about to sink? Jesus never has that feeling.

That control you and I strive to maintain is only an illusion.  In response to the disciples cry of desperation, Jesus speaks a word and the storm stills. The disciples were still in the boat. There was still water in the boat. They weren’t miraculously on dry land—they were still in the middle of the lake. The storm was gone.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus didn’t ask the disciple why they didn’t work more or try harder to save the boat. Jesus didn’t encourage them to bail out more water—to work harder or faster. Jesus simply asked them why they didn’t trust Him.

I’ll admit it—I’d rather scurry than trust. Scurrying around trying to solve my own problems—even the unsolvable ones—at least makes me feel like I’m doing something. Even the habit of worry makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. To trust—to admit I’m powerless–that’s hard.

That’s the place Jesus invites each of us to–powerlessness.

This terrific storm was just practice. Jesus knew the storm that was on the horizon for the disciples. The disciples were going to watch Jesus be murdered and put in tomb. They needed the practice. They needed to learn they could rely on Jesus’ word, His character, His love for them.

Trust Me—it’s the call of Jesus. Trust just doesn’t happen. It takes practice. It takes getting to know the One you trust. God reveals His character to humanity. It’s revealed in nature.  It’s reveled in Christ.

It’s Jesus’ probing question to you and me—Why can’t you trust Me?

Father, let trust be my first reaction today. Teach me to rest in Your strength, power and love for me. Loosen my grip on the control I try so desperately, yet so inadequately, to maintain. Help my faith to increase as I trust You. Thank You for being bigger and stronger than my storms.

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The “Church Lady” Meets Jesus

Church lady“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.    Matthew 23:23-26 (MSG)

How about something light-hearted for Monday? Ok, depending on who you are, this may be convicting and not light-hearted.

Lately, name calling has become an art form. It’s replaced true discourse—call the person you disagree with a name and you’ve won the argument. In this interaction, Jesus calls out the “churchy” people of His day. Although Jesus embodies grace, He also embodies truth. Jesus directed His anger toward those who distorted the truth—trying to make God unreachable, trying to subvert God’s grace and make manmade rules more important. In those moments Jesus didn’t mince His words—His call out was clear.  Jesus wasn’t simply name-calling.

Just like He is today, Jesus was a bit of a troublemaker when He lived here on earth.  Jesus talked to women, paid attention to children, had a huge following and dined with sinners. Those people all embraced Jesus. The group of people one would expect to welcome Jesus warmly was the very group that rejected Him—the churchy folks. A Saturday Night Live character, The Church Lady, is the image that comes to mind when I think of churchy people.

Since the parody seems to come so easily, it’s worth a frequent heart-check to make sure those of us in church are following The Master and not our own will.  When I refer to the churchy people, I’m NOT referring to those people who struggle to be like Jesus. Those who go the extra mile, give up their coat as well as their shirt when asked, give to the poor, love the orphan and widows and seek to be last rather than first. Those people fill the church, and rightly so, those actions and attitudes exemplify The Church.

To me, churchy people are the ones more worried  about church than they are about Jesus. Unfortunately, they are the ones that draw the attention of the world. The churchy have Jesus’ words exactly backwards. The often require the “go and sin no more” to come before the “neither do I condemn you.” Good intentioned people who have the same problem as the Pharisees; they think their actions and how they look is what makes them worthy of God’s love.

Don’t fall for the false dichotomy. I’m not an anarchist. Jesus admitted good bookkeeping is commendable, and then warned good bookkeeping should not replace what really matters.  GRACE.

Matthew records Jesus’ scolding of the churchy. Contrast Jesus’ words to the blatant sinner with those He pours out on the religious. Grace and The Law are like oil and water. Jesus comes to be The Way to the Father, full of grace and truth but He finds Himself at odds with those who should be supporting His arrival.

Why was Jesus so upset? Because the religious people, under the guise of making people Holy, were actually making God unobtainable through their exercise of rituals and laws. Jesus says it plainly in verses 4-7. Jesus shouted it when He overturned the tables of those who were robbing the poor by selling sacrificial animals inside the temple for inflated prices. Jesus becomes angry not at sinful people, but at those who would use religion to keep sinful people from coming to the only source of salvation.

If you are a churchy person reflect on the words of Jesus, not only to the churchy but to the sinner. You’ll find Jesus was less concerned about the sinners dress code, hair style and activities than He was about meeting the sinner’s need for a savior. Jesus knows the power of grace. Grace can change a heart and when the changes, all the outside stuff that matters, changes too.

If you are a “sinner” come running. Run passed the churchy people and into Jesus’ arms. He’s waiting to full that emptiness inside you, not with condemnation but with grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Father, change my heart! When I begin to get churchy, remind me of the price You paid so that none would perish. Stop me from adjusting Your list of “whosoever will can come” to a list that suits my comfort level. Give me Your heart for those who don’t know You and desperately need a Savior. Let me be a way, not in the way, of leading people to You.

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